A medic sorts samples for Covid-19 rapid antigen testing, during Unlock 2.0, in New Delhi, Saturday, 11 July 2020.| PTI/Kamal Kishore Nath
A medic sorts samples for Covid-19 rapid antigen testing, during Unlock 2.0, in New Delhi, Saturday, 11 July 2020.| PTI/Kamal Kishore Nath
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New Delhi: The United Kingdom may roll out millions of rapid antibody tests with an over 98 per cent accuracy before the end of this year, an exclusive report in The Telegraph said last week.

The antibody tests, which can produce results within 20 minutes and are backed by the UK government, have already undergone “secret trials” last month which have shown the tests are 98.6 per cent accurate.

The test is designed for home use and works by pricking the finger and testing the blood for antibodies.

According to The Telegraph report, ministers are already drawing up plans to distribute millions of them across the country before the end of the year, but the testing kits are yet to be validated.

Also read: UK conducted secret human trials of antibody test, results were 98.6% accurate, says report

How the test works

The test, called AbC-19 lateral flow test, has been developed by the UK Rapid Test Consortium, a partnership between Oxford University and several other UK-based diagnostic firms.

The test works by drawing blood from a pricked finger and using the virus’ “full length spike protein”, to detect IgG antibodies. The blood is passed through a home strip, which shows two pink lines if the result is positive. This particular method of testing has led to the test’s high sensitivity.

Three batches of “tens of thousands” of prototypes have been sent for validation to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the data from which is expected in the next few weeks.

Once approved, the government hopes to distribute the kits online for free rather than sell them through supermarkets.

The possibility of mass screening

The test passed its first major clinical trial in June, conducted by Ulster University on 292 people. Results showed that in patients thought to be positive, the test was accurate 98.8 per cent of the time, and that in patients who were actually negative, it was accurate 98.1 per cent of the time, yielding an overall accuracy of 98.6 per cent.

“At the moment, this test is a tool to gather knowledge,” Dr Chris Hand, leader of the UK-RTC and chairman of Abingdon Health, among the diagnostic firms involved in the production of the test, told The Telegraph. “The objective is to allow mass testing, which you can’t really do by sending samples to a lab. By being able to test millions of people, it will gather information so that we know how many people have antibodies, whether they protect against reinfection and how long they last.”

The UK government hopes to roll out mass testing before the end of the year, but will give priority to healthcare workers before allowing the general public to use it.

“We’re working with the Department of Health on the commercial side of things, the procurement agreements and so on. One of the key things is to make sure that we provide value for money,” Dr Hand said.

Also read: Fewer fatalities, better understanding of treatments — News around Covid is getting better


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